Every life is an open road. It’s a lyric from the title cut for Colin James‘ 20th album which was released this week. In Colin’ case, the certainty and direction of his musical journey was cemented when fate intervened back in the 1980’s in his hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan. A late no show and a desperate last minute search for an opening act for Stevie Ray Vaughan led to Colin. After the show, Stevie told him , “I’m opening doors for you….walk through them!”.And that he did!!
In 1988, Colin released his first self-titled album which contained two self-penned hits, Voodoo Thing and Five Long Years that garnered him the first of his 7 JUNO awards and a spot touring with Keith Richards. Over the ensuing years, Colin has rocked it, been credited with reviving swing music in Canada, and, with the last three albums, solidified his standings as one badass roadhouse bluesman.
The OPEN ROAD album is an impressive collection of original songs as well as covers of tunes he recalls first firing his imagination at the age of 12. It has rockin’ blues songs, traditional blues numbers, and beautiful roots tunes. Overcoming the challenges of the pandemic, Colin drew together the talents of Chris Caddell (rhythm guitar), Steve Pelletier and Norm Fisher (bassists), Simon Kendall and Jesse O’Brien (Hammond B3 organ), and Geoff Hicks (drums) to make the recording. It was mixed at the famed Abbey Roads Studios in London by producer Dave Meszaros. And the product, which includes guest appearances by Steve Marriner (harmonica) and Jerry Cook and Steve Hilliam (saxophone) is in my opinion his best overall release to date and worthy of consideration as one of the best blues recordings of 2021 world wide, not just in Canada. To give you a feel for just how good it is, I use a 5 star rating system for songs and there are 13 on the Open Road recording. My overall rating is an incredible 57 out of a possible 65. As context, my normal rating for an album I considered great would be 40 to 45! This recording is special!!
The album opens with some tasty guitar pickin’ on the Tony Joe White song As The Crow Flies. Colin then takes on challenge of covering an Albert King tune, Can’t You See What You’re Doing to Me. He follows that up with some badass lowdown blues on That’s Why I Am Crying. The fourth song Open Road was written by Colin and Craig Northey. It is insightful observation on life and the travails of a traveling musician. On the fifth tune, Change It, Colin pays tribute to his fateful meeting with Stevie Ray with a song written by Doyle Bramhall. The album also contains two songs written by Colin and Colin Linden, another of my favorite Canadian artists, Raging River and There’s a Fire. Colin cranks out a signature rockin blues tune, Leave This House, that he wrote with Tom Wilson as the seventh cut. Colin’s version of the Bob Dylan song, It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry is a showcase for his voice and some more tasty guitar licks. And he absolutely aces another Dylan tune, Down On the Bottom, that served as one of the “promo singles” released back in September. Colin also delivers a fabulous cover of the John Lee Hooker song, Bad Boy. One of my all time favorite bluesmen is Otis Rush and the recording of It Takes Time featuring some exquisite harmonica by Steve Marriner is just simply badass roadhouse blues! And to top it all off, the last song on the album is a soulful rendition of Otis Redding‘s I Love You More Than I Can Say.
I have been told that the average music lover buys a dozen or so albums a year. In what is fast becoming the new age of the single, I highly recommend that you purchase the entire recording to truly appreciate what an incredible recording this is! And in the coming months, I will be more than willing to hit the open road to see Colin James work his musical magic on stage….how about you?
Colin James – Open Road (2021 Stony Plain Records)
Ben Vee started out spinning songs on terrestrial radio and at nightclubs back in the 1970’s in his home state of Louisiana. After a career in the construction business, he returned to DJing in 2011. He now hosts two shows each week on http://www.bluesmusicfan.com and writes about the blues at http://www.benveeblues.com from his home in Connecticut. He also has a 24 hour stream devoted to the Roadhouse Blues… WRHB